Hemingway in Spain is featured in a new critical book

The most gratifying outcome for an author is, of course, to have his book bought in huge numbers. But the next best thing is to be the subject of an extended critical study. That’s what’s happened in the case of my book, Hemingway in Spain: Words and Images (1st edition, 1997; 2nd edition 2007), and the feature film Hemingway in Spain, which was released in 2006.

In his 2015 book Appropriating Hemingway: Using Him as a Fictional Character, American academic Ron McFarland studies both works at length in his final chapter, “Hem Among the Poets”. Dr McFarland has graciously given his permission for us to quote from his analysis of the works.

David P. Reiter’s book, Hemingway in Spain: Words and Images (1997, 2nd edition, 2007) offers a kaleidoscopic portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in that post modern vein touring contemporary Spain accompanied by his girlfriend Maria, presumably borrowed from his 1949 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. As Publisher of Interactive Publications in Brisbane, Australia, Reiter, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver, has seen to the publication of several of his own books, and on the IP Web site he describes the “several ‘Hemingways’” that make up the sequence as “voices from the past and present, real and imagined” in a mode he calls “fusion poetry.” In a DVD based on the book and released in late 2006, available through amazon.com, Reiter fuses his reading of most of the poems (only sixteen of the 61 are not included) and an elaborate pastiche of images and videos pertinent to the texts. We can sample the variety of these Hemingway voices by reflecting on a few of the poems, starting with the first one, “At Plaza de España, Madrid,” where we hear a voice sounding very much like Hemingway addressing Cervantes:

You were their best, Miguel,but you only got it right once.Is that why they bronzedthe myths before the man?

The presumably rhetorical question might apply equally to Hemingway. Hemingway––or more accurately David Reiter, speaking through that mask or persona––then rips on Franco, whom he reduces to no more than “wet sand: between toes of the peónes. In the DVD, Reiter provides images ranging from statues of Cervantes and Franco on horseback to a quick clip of a donkey. Throughout he occasionally inserts lines of text from the poems, in this case the description of Franco as “no more than wet sand between their toes.”

As the poem ends, Reiter looks back to a piece of dialogue near the conclusion of The Sun Also Rises, when Brett says, “It’s sort of what we have instead of God” (249). The neuter pronouns’s antecedent may or may not be regarded as ambiguous. It would seem from the context that she means simply “deciding not to be a bitch” is what we have instead of God. But Jake proposes that they have a martini, so one might surmise that alcohol is “what we have,” and in a broader context, perhaps “it” refers to love, or perhaps to feeling “rather damned good.” In appropriately post modern fashion, Reiter’s Hemingway offers “irony’s what we have instead of God” (4). Addressing Cervantes again, he writes, “You took up a pen to escape a war; / I took up battle to escape an uncertain / pen.” In the closing line, he declares flatly, “Things haven’t changed a hell of a lot.” The opening poem is set opposite a familiar photograph of Hemingway from the early 1930’s. Another twenty or so photos of scenes from Spain are distributed throughout the book, and most of those also appear in the film.

The second poem in the book, “A Clean Well-lighted Place,” opens with a three-line passage from A Moveable Feast and follows with a quatrain very much in synch with the style and tone:

It’s easier when you come back in winter, in the half-life. The sun’s more sympathetic to grey and you can sip a cheap rosé without regretting those stories you left too quickly [5].

Hemingway then notices a wooden bust of himself, and he comments on how a waiter told tales of how Papa composed A Moveable Feast there in Madrid and he made out so well with the tips that he was able to open his own place, which he called “Not the Hemingway Restaurant / and all the postmodern pretenders go there” (6). Ernest claims not to be able to understand a word the postmodernists say. In the third poem, “At the Hotel Florida,” the first-person speaker signs the register as “E. Hemingway, / Ketchum, Idaho,” and in the lobby he encounters Maria, who will accompany him throughout the rest of his visit to Spain (7). In that poem we watch him struggle with his writing. Maria joins him in the next poem, “No Writers in the Prado.” There and elsewhere in the book the dictator Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975, is conjured up and repudiated as a man incapable of appreciating art or literature.

Some sense of how the poems affect the reader can be gained by citing a few opening stanzas in which the historical past (sometimes the Spanish Civil War, sometimes events from much more distant history––Reiter provides explanatory endnotes) mingles with the present:

It took days for our troops to reach Toledo through all the sniper fire and land mines but just a few hours for Maria’s old Renault

[“The Walls of Toledo,” 15].

I couldn’t help but think of Robert Cohen
as we walked by that pathetic synagogue
scrunched between souvenir shops

[“In the Barrio de la Juderia,” 25].

Charles was tapping his sceptre in the dustas we passed the ticket counter. “I suppose,”he said, “that Boabdil asked you to intervene with me on his behalf. The man has no shame.He gives the crown––or whatever he wore––a bad name.” [Boabdil, or Muhammad XII, was the lastMuslim ruler of Granada, the last Muslim-ruled city in Spain]

[“Charles V Sets the Record Straight,” 65].

It would have been pure hell for Scott––a Hollywood without martinis and olives––but old Clint never looked so fit.

“You won’t believe your eyes, Hemingway,”he said, “but they’ve done it up in spades.Look at this––it’s a base away from home!”

[“Clint Eastwood at Tabernas,” 73].

Some of the poems are more subtle, and in some Hemingway appears nonexistent, or perhaps more completely blended into a first-person speaker who seems more akin to David Reiter lowering the mask. In the credits at the end of the film, Reiter states simply, “David Reiter was Ernest Hemingway.”

True to the postmodern premise of the poems, anything can happen. For example, in “Bluffing at Gibralfaro” (Lighthouse Hill in Málaga, per Reiter’s endnote––a castle-like fortification on a hill that rises about 427 feet over the Mediterranean) a gypsy attempts to force Hemingway to pay a parking fee, an obvious scam. “Here was another gypsy / who didn’t recognize Hemingway!” he grouses (48). When the gypsy returns with a shillelagh, Hemingway, slipping into the role of his own character, Robert Jordan from For Whom the Bell Tolls, regards him as “one of the faceless ones I shot down / before I passed out above the bridge.” Then just as a fight seems inevitable, Teddy Roosevelt shows up with “a mean bull-whip” and the gypsy turns tail. “Get tough, / Hemingway,” TR advises, that’s the ticket to ride” (50). In that gesture, Reiter connects what was most likely an unpleasant contretemps he experienced as a tourist in Málaga with Hemingway, with the fictional character of Robert Jordan, with Theodore Roosevelt (as Rough Rider), and with the Beatles via the allusion to their 1965 hit “Ticket to Ride.” Viewing the bullring from the ramparts of the Gibralfaro, TR scoffs at bullfighting, but Hemingway suggests, “Maybe that’s what they have instead of God” (51).

Near the end of the book Maria parts company with Ernest, ending their relationship “quick / as a bullet” and reminding him, “If you have to turn the page / the ending was wrong!” (105). In the final two poems Hemingway first visits the Escorial, where Philip II (1527-1598) welcomes him and Ernest likens writers to kings: “The veins we mine are the only ore / worth a sentence. Yet who else loses sleep / over the marrow behind the architecture?” (107). He then visits the Valley of the Fallen, a monument to the dead from the Spanish Civil War. Here he feels the presence of Franco, who had the site constructed by prisoners of war, but Franco is not there:

I walked further and further into the mountain but I couldn’t find him among the statues. Maybe he’d decided not to interrogate the myth [110].

Of course, both the film and these poems, most of them driven through with lines and characters drawn from Hemingway’s prose, invite just such an interrogation.

Both titles are available in physical and eBook formats from the IP Store.

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